Q&A with Mr. Aki Murata: President, Consumer Products Group, Olympus Americas

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Ever since Olympus announced its intention to transfer its imaging business to Japan Industrial Partners, Inc. (JIP), on June 24, we’ve been anxious to learn further details. For 84 years, the Olympus brand has been synonymous with innovative camera technology and unique product development. What effects will this transfer have on the current and upcoming Olympus product line? What will it mean for photographers who currently use Olympus camera gear?

For a better understanding of this matter, we recently asked Mr. Aki Murata, president of Olympus America’s Consumer Products Group, to respond to a few questions about this recent announcement, provide some background about JIP, and offer his insights about what the future may bring.

Can you please provide more context on Olympus’s recent announcement?

On June 24, Olympus signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Japan Industrial Partners, Inc. (JIP). According to the MOU, both companies are committed to further discussions about the transfer of Olympus’s long-standing Imaging business to JIP by the end of 2020. Importantly, the MOU with JIP is a reflection of our intention to revitalize our Imaging business.

The catalyst to this decision has been a third year of consecutive financial losses amid a declining market and a corporate transformation that is focused on growth within Olympus’s medical technology division.

While the biggest driver of the Imaging Division’s financial loss was factory relocation, which slowed the speed of new product launches, we are proud to say that we have since recovered and grown our market share to a higher level versus that which preceded our factory relocation.

The camera market as a whole is declining and unstable, especially over the past four months. Therefore, it became clear that Olympus needed to look to restructure our organization to adapt to the changing market.

With Olympus’s transformation goal of becoming a sustainable leading global med-tech company, Olympus will be devoting a significant portion of our investment resources to areas outside of the Imaging Division. Therefore, it became appropriate for us to identify a partner who can focus solely on revitalizing our consumer Imaging business.

As a next step, Olympus and JIP are working towards the signing of a DA (definitive agreement) at the end of September, after due diligence. The actual transfer would be executed at the end of December.

Who will provide support for Olympus photographers during and after the transfer? What will the impact be on Olympus warranties?

The transfer is not expected to affect Olympus’s service offerings. Olympus’s Authorized Repair Centers will continue business as usual. Services such as repairs and warranty claims will be honored for Olympus-branded products both during and after the transfer. Customers can schedule service and/or repairs by visiting: learnandsupport.getolympus.com/repair. Customers currently making purchase decisions should feel confident that their Olympus products will continue to be supported in the future.

Will new cameras and lenses be released?

Absolutely! Again, we are working to revitalize the business under the new leadership. Our R&D team will remain and will continue to develop high-quality camera systems and audio products. In fact, to demonstrate our continued commitment to our customers and to our product lines, we made several announcements last week, including the future of M.Zuiko lens products. Our announcements also included the availability of a free software allowing many OM-D customers to utilize their Olympus cameras as a webcam for video streaming, named OM-D Webcam Beta, compatible with the Olympus E-M1X, E-M1, E-M1 Mark II, E-M1 Mark III and E-M5 Mark II cameras.

Will firmware updates continue?

Last week, Olympus announced the development of a future firmware update to support birding photographers with the addition of Bird Detection to the OM-D E-M1X camera’s Intelligent Subject Detection AF. The firmware is scheduled for release this winter.

Are there any plans for expanding into new areas of the photo market after the transfer?

With our Micro Four Thirds (MFT) Standard mirrorless interchangeable lens systems, our product lineup offers unique benefits that other camera manufacturers do not have the ability to offer. We will continue to pursue these benefits and develop MFT system products that are aligned with the needs of photographers of genres in which our unique features shine, such as Wildlife, Bird, Field Macro, and Adventure Landscape photography. Our pursuit of fields like these are reflective of our commitment to compact lightweight system technology.

Will a new name be created?

The Olympus brand name will remain at the time of transfer. The name will likely not be used forever, but that decision will be made in the final agreement between Olympus and JIP.

What is Japan Industrial Partners, and does it have experience in the photo industry?

JIP has extensive experience with carve-outs (or spin-offs), where it supports companies in the process of relinquishing businesses or subsidiaries, providing the necessary investments to accomplish the business’s growth potential as an independently operated entity. This is why we believe JIP is an optimal partner.

With the support of JIP, we believe the consumer Imaging business will have the ability to build a foundation for improving profit structure and managing the business over the medium to long term as a new company, while accumulating innovative technologies and developing a solid brand position in the market.

While JIP has no experience specifically in the photo industry, they do have a track record of acquiring and rebuilding consumer brands.

What has been its track record buying consumer brands?

As mentioned above, JIP is an organization focused on corporate restructuring, which manages and operates an investment fund. In previous years, JIP acquired VAIO from Sony and rebuilt that brand.

What is the future of Olympus’s Imaging business?​

While no one can predict the future, we believe this transfer will be the best step to preserving the Olympus brand legacy, our technologies, and our outstanding products.

The current market environment is extremely challenging. Therefore, we decided to begin making changes now to ensure we can continue providing our products and services to customers. We will continue to advance our goal of leading in the Outdoor Niche photography category by focusing on the previously mentioned photography fields. Our future product development, strategies, and organization will be based on these priorities.

What can Olympus users expect to see in terms of changes? Is there any relevant part of the business that is not being transferred to JIP?

It is too early to predict what changes could take place, as details of the transfer are still being negotiated. The transfer will include all product categories currently managed by our Imaging Division. Olympus’s Medical, Life Sciences, and Industrial Solutions divisions will not be included in the transfer.

Why should prospective camera buyers be comfortable investing in Olympus products today?

During the ongoing discussions, Olympus’s consumer Imaging business will continue as usual. Our sales, service, and marketing departments will continue to work hard to support customers with our outstanding products and services. There are no plans to change our product launch plans in 2020. Products that have been announced as under development will be introduced to the market as planned.

Again, Olympus views this transfer as an opportunity to enable its Imaging Division to continue providing value to both new and experienced photographers. We are excited for the future of our consumer products and what the new organization and our communities will create together.

What are your thoughts about the Olympus announcement to transfer its imaging business to JIP? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

14 Comments

Olympus system is perfect for my use, wildlife and travel photography to places like Africa, Antarctica, Arctic, the beaver pond across the street and macro in my back yard. I will stick with it. I love it and have no regrets about having bought into it. The responses in this interview, however, are carefully worded and hedged in a manner that makes me quite concerned for the future development and commitment to the system by JIP. I will continue to purchase newly developed lenses etc so long as the technology and manufacturing quality is maintained. I am 70 and expect my cameras and pro lenses will last for the duration of my world travels. Were I younger and still liking this lightweight technology as much as I do, however, I would still have to think long and hard about investing in this system. I would only do so if I saw unhedged commitment.

I love so much the PEN-F that I bought a second one just to have a backup in case the first one ever had a problem. The way to play deeply with color and black and white profiles, the 5 axis stabilization, the quality and beauty of this little gem made me buy 13 different lenses. I have no DOF problem at all by using a pletora or F0.95 lenses. The small size, reasonable price make what I think is one of the best cameras over the last 5 years, period. A better and faster AF system like in the EM-1 MkIII is what is missing to make it the most interesting camera ever.

If you try shooting an OLYMPUS MFT camera with its optics, cost, and light weight you will never put it down. The majority of consumers think they need super high MP FF chips. They really dont... They "want" super high MP FF chips...

I've owned Olympus cameras going back to the half-frame film cameras and continuing on through generations of digital cameras.  It has long been an innovative, solid and reliable brand with good customer and repair service.  Even though I own the OM-D E-M1X, E-M1 Mark III, and E-M5 Mark III bodies and a welter of current lenses stretching from the 8mm fisheye to the 300mm telephoto, I must confess I'm skeptical about the brand's future -- despite all the "not-to-worry" happy talk from the corporation and its spokesmen.  Some of the recent, near give-aways of camera bodies if one buys a pair of premium lenses seem calculated to expand the customer base for JIP and to make it more likely a customer taking advantage of such deals may add yet other lenses and accessories in the future.  But, reading between the lines of Mr. Aki Murata's carefully phrased Q&A (you can be sure the legal department combed it with a fine-toothed comb), there seems to be a lot of reticence, a lot of things left unsaid, hedged, or incompletely addressed.  Handing the consumer camera division over to JIP, whose experience in the business seems scant at best, makes it look as though the Olympus consumer camera line, even though now sailing smartly down the stream of commerce, is headed for the waterfalls in the next few years.  Perhaps it is time to cut losses and sell off Olympus gear and get into some other brand -- before Olympus becomes another collectible oddity like a Brownie Starflash or Starmite.

On the other hand, the Oly gear I currently have is good today and will be good tomorrow. Interested to see what JIP will do. I will not get too excited just yet. But then, I am not living off my photography. Frankly, if I was, I’m not certain Oly would have been my first choice of systems is the first place. (Switched to Nikon gear for four and a half years on a US Air Force photo gig.) However these days, shooting the occasional money gig and mostly shooting family gigs and personal projects, the Oly OMD MFT system has been totally great. I will continue to use my Oly gear till it breaks, JIP proves a dud or something else very irresistible comes along.

I bought into Oly for the size and weight advantage but I miss the shallow depth of field in the telephoto focal length range.   I hope JIP will address this by developing new glass that will challenge the bigger names in the realm of sports action photography.  I understand this would mean heavier lenses and am willing to accept that.  I think the Pro Capture feature is ideally suited for sports like football and basketball.   

Like Gordon and unlike Rick, I switched from Nikon to Olympus 7 years ago, without one ounce of regret. I have since owned 5 different Olympus bodies, plus the TG5. I switched to take advantage of the lower weight & size, but I have stayed with Olympus because their lenses are ABSOLUTELY SUPERIOR. Their sharpness is unmatched. Not to mention the state-of-the-art image stabilization technology, unmatched so far.

I am not concerned about the JIP announcement. With such a superb product range, a large following of loyal users and most importantly a unique selling proposition in the MFT offering, JIP will find a way to make the product range profitable for the long term. I WILL NOT SWITCH! I LOVE OLYMPUS! I LOVE MFT!

Similar to my story. After a 3 month job in a bunch of African countries with a Nikon kit and an Olympus OMD EM5 (mk1), I sold my Nikon gear and switched to Oly. Pretty happy with that change. Interested to see what JIP will do, but I am in pretty good shape with a nice Oly kit of camera and lenses to last quite a while.

I traded my Olympus gear for Nikon and have never looked back.  I like a full frame and a viewfinder.  Yes, there is more weight but that is what a tripod is for.  I used my E-5 for everything including studio, wildlife and commercial work and loved it, but when Olympus announced that was the last full frame, I saw the writing on the wall.  Good luck to Olympus and JIP I think they will need it. 

The E-5 wasn't Full Frame.  It was the last of the 4/3rd bodies. A crop sensor.

Had been a Nikon user since 1975 and had all of the latest Nikon gear. I was about 75 years old and it was no longer fun carrying a 40 pound camera backpack therefore I had begun to leave lens at home. Sold all the Nikon gear and purchased the micro four thirds Olympus system and have never looked back. My bag is now 19 pounds and I have more coverage than I had with Nikon. Love the Olympus Pro Capture capability. The Olympus anti-shake feature is the best that I have used. How about a 4 second hand held capture that is sharp? I do not make billboard size prints so 20 MP is sufficient for my needs.

Hi,

I'm currently a Nikon user (D750, D500) and am considering a move to Olympus for the smaller size/weight since I'm getting older.  My concern is with the half-frame sensor size.  Although this does yield the gains in size and weight, what if in the future I need more resolution than 20MP?  There must be a limit how many pixels one can mash onto a half-frame sensor and maintain good performance at high ISO.  My basketball photos have all been shot at ISO 8000 the last couple of years.  That's on the 20 MP APS-C sensor of the D500.

So will there be any full-frame or medium format options with higher resolution in the future for Olympus?

Thanks,

Doug

Doug C. wrote:

Hi,

I'm currently a Nikon user (D750, D500) and am considering a move to Olympus for the smaller size/weight since I'm getting older.  My concern is with the half-frame sensor size.  Although this does yield the gains in size and weight, what if in the future I need more resolution than 20MP?  There must be a limit how many pixels one can mash onto a half-frame sensor and maintain good performance at high ISO.  My basketball photos have all been shot at ISO 8000 the last couple of years.  That's on the 20 MP APS-C sensor of the D500.

So will there be any full-frame or medium format options with higher resolution in the future for Olympus?

Also, I am concerned about the higher battery drain on the mirrorless platform.  Right now I can get 2000+ shots from a charge on my Nikon D500 batteries.  At a typical basketball game I'll capture 600-800 images.

Thanks,

Doug

Hi Doug,

Mr. Murata in the interview stated that "[Olympus] will continue to pursue these benefits and develop MFT system products that are aligned with the needs of photographers of genres in which our unique features shine, such as Wildlife, Bird, Field Macro, and Adventure Landscape photography."

This would imply they are going to remain focused on the Four Thirds format size and not expand into full-frame or medium format. 

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